The Portland Trail Blazers returned home on Tuesday night after a grueling six-game road trip, set to face the San Antonio Spurs. Though the Blazers went 4-2 on their swing while the Spurs had slumped to 6-8 on the season after a hot start, the matchup ended up being fairly even. Blazers forward Jerami Grant had a huge game with 29 points and 8 rebounds, adding plenty of defense besides. But the Blazers couldn’t keep the Spurs out of the paint and couldn’t hold onto the ball in the second half. That made the game rough no matter who stepped up for Portland.
Grant may have gotten Portland into position to win, but their wings—Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, and for a brief second Josh Hart—put the baby in the bassinet. Each made improbable plays late to keep the Spurs at bay. Portland won another close one, 117-110.
The Blazer struck first from Jerami Grant after a San Antonio turnover, but the Spurs rattled off thirteen quick points, only interrupted by a nice Grant fadeaway. Head Coach Chauncey Billups was forced to call a timeout at 13-4.
Out of the timeout things started to improve. Billups went to the bench to look for a spark from Shaedon Sharpe and Drew Eubanks taking out Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons. Coach Billups wanted some urgency, and Sharpe obliged with a quick three. Portland’s energy picked up on both ends of the court. Damian Lillard especially became more assertive, and a Dame and-one forced Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout at 22-16 with the free throw yet to come.
San Antonio tried to keep their advantage primarily with the deep ball, but the Blazers continued to chip at the lead until a Sharpe three reclaimed the lead for Portland. A buzzer beater by the Spurs after a turnover with seconds left in the quarter resulted in a narrow lead of 30-29 for the Blazers. Sharpe finished the quarter in double figures at 10 points after an electric eight-minute run.
The Spurs came out with a full court press, and it immediately paid dividends. The Blazers couldn’t get the ball over the half court line, and the Spurs cashed in a three to reclaim the lead. San Antonio got their lead to eight with efficient offense aided by sloppiness from Portland. A quick Lillard drive though cut the lead to six as we went to commercials.
Sharpe got back on the court and continued where he left off, hitting a pullup jumper and nearly bringing the house down with an immense alley-oop, thwarted by a foul from Roby. Neither team could assert control, but a concerning trend was that San Antonio was getting easy looks in the paint, while Portland needed to work hard for everything.
As is typical, though, the Blazers made a quick run as the period dwindled. Simons keyed it, one of the classic popcorn, pop-up streaks that turns deficits into possibilities. Jerami Grant helped out big time moving the ball, providing opportunistic defense, stroking a three late, and blitzing his way to 19 points in the first half. Between Grant and Simons, the Blazers finished the quarter up 62-56.
The teams opened up the third trading three-pointers back and forth. Once the defenses spread to cope, they pounded in inside, providing mirror images of each other. Portland had trouble defending, particularly in the key, but they made up for it with a bevy of foul shots. When Portland also began scoring on quick offense, the Spurs had a hard time keeping pace. The home team got the lead up to 8 and looked to be sailing away.
Portland being Portland, they couldn’t keep the momentum going indefinitely. The Blazers handed San Antonio a mid-quarter run with via a bevy of turnovers.
Grant proved a one-stop mistake eraser, though, scoring repeatedly, then distracting the defense enough for everyone else to get open looks. When Damian Lillard is left wide open from the arc, you KNOW somebody else is scoring big.
The Blazers also clamped down on defense late in the period...finally. It’s not like they scored a ton, but slowing the flow of San Antonio’s offense made those shots count. If it hadn’t been for their repeated turnovers, Portland might have run away with it, once again. The miscues ended up sending the scoreboard the other way. Portland finished the period up ever so slightly, 93-89.
The fourth quarter started out oddly, with Trendon Watford getting whistled for a reckless closeout on a Devin Vassell three-pointer, granting San Antonio three free throws that all but tied the game. The Spurs took back the lead on the next possession. Portland’s second unit looked fractured and worried for one of the first times all season.
The action slowed down after that, with both teams being more careful, which almost translated to caution? They looked tentative, scoring in labored possessions. But when you talk slow-down, halfcourt chess match, it’s hard to beat a Popovich-coached team. The Spurs took a 103-98 lead with 8:00 remaining. The Blazers needed a spark of inspiration once again.
As one would expect, Portland turned to their superhero, Damian Lillard. He scored on a nifty move to the cup, but turnover over the ball on the next possession. Then Grant missed a jumper and it looked like Portland’s comeback plan was a little short on pop. That was confirmed when, on the next possession, San Antonio’s stiff defense forced Lillard and Drew Eubanks to run a screen play out by the logo, with predictably bad results.
All the time, though, the Spurs were throwing up bricks. That left the door open for Portland. Eubanks, of all people, took the lid off the bucket with a nice roll off of a screen play at the arc. Then Simons hit a jumper. The Struggle Bus had finally gotten out of the lot. Portland trailed only 106-104 with 4:00 remaining. Then Eubanks made like Portland’s Wilt Chamberlain, converting an and-one at the rim to give the Blazers the lead, 107-106. When Lillard blocked a post attempt by Keita Bates-Diop then hit a three from straight away, the Moda Center was on fire. Portland led 110-106 with 3:15 remaining.
The play got ugly again with bricks by Portland, an unforced turnover for the Spurs. The halfcourt wasn’t kind to either team in the second half. But Simons said heck with plays and percentages, stroking a very contested three at the shot clock buzzer with 2:05 remaining. San Antonio converted on the next possession but Josh Hart poked away a steal for a breakaway dunk, putting Portland up 5 with 1:21 remaining.
Slowdown ball worked its magic after that. When Tre Jones missed a wide-open three on San Antonio’s next try, there weren’t enough possessions yet to bring the Spurs back, It wasn’t pretty, but it’ll go down as another Portland victory.
Our extended recap is just around the corner. Stay tuned!
The Blazers will host the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday at 7:00 pm.